House debates

Monday, 21 June 2021


Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:50 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021 because the Australian aged-care system is in crisis. The coalition government has neglected older Australians for the past eight years, and we now have a royal commission that sets out for us just how damning that neglect is. Their record on aged care speaks volumes. Under this government there's been a $1.7 billion cut from the sector; nearly 11,000 deaths of people who were waiting for home care in the past year; 685 deaths from coronavirus during the pandemic; and chronic understaffing, malnutrition and neglect in facilities. The royal commission into aged care set all of this out. It highlighted graphically the tragic outcomes of a system of neglect and failures all round—and the government have had eight years to do something about it.

The coalition government have neglected older Australians and neglected aged-care residents and aged-care workers for eight years. These are the people who built our country. These are our parents, our family members and our community members. What does it say about all of us, what does it say about the community we want, that we are prepared to put up with these conditions? What does it say when this government is still failing to act on the recommendations of that damning royal commission? It is a cliche to use the phrase 'damning reading', but it does describe the experience of reading the report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Commissioner Lynelle Briggs found that an 'absence of government leadership and stewardship of the system has meant that obvious and longstanding problems have not been dealt with'. That absence created a system that left Commissioner Briggs wondering whether as a community we had lost our moral compass, so poor is the system now.

The royal commission was the government's chance—it is the government's chance—after eight years of leadership failure, to reset and to build a system that respects older Australians. The royal commission made 148 recommendations, and the government's response to those recommendations is nothing short of disappointing. The government have delayed and rejected key recommendations. Some of the problems with the government's response include not reforming workforce issues, this huge issue that is sitting there. There is nothing in the government's response to improve wages for overstretched and undervalued aged-care workers—the bedrock of our system. On funding commitments, they are gifting $3.2 billion to providers with no strings attached to ensure that this goes to actual care and better food and not into the pockets of unscrupulous providers. They have failed to clear the home-care package waiting list of 100,000 people, yet I know that so many people in my community want to age at home. They've ignored the recommendation to require a nurse to be on duty 24/7 in residential care—something that's core to improving care. And they haven't implemented the main increase to mandatory care minutes in residential aged care.

We know that staffing levels are central to so many of the quality problems in residential aged care, yet this government's response ignores the fact that the workforce we rely on to care for people in residential aged care is underpaid. They're not supported to have a long-term career. They're not supported to have a job that pays them decent conditions. We see the results of this all round. During the pandemic we have seen what that means for workers having to work across multiple facilities when they are not vaccinated and when they're having to go between facilities and the risk that creates for both these workers and for people in those facilities.

In my own community I know that one of the things that people were most concerned about at the start of this winter, as Melbourne was in its fourth lockdown, was the fact that aged-care workers were not vaccinated and that aged-care workers were left without supplementary payments that meant that they were able to work at just one facility instead of having to work across facilities. After what we endured last year in Melbourne, after all the deaths we saw in aged care, after all the workers we saw who were put at risk, this government failed to vaccinate them and failed to put in place the plans that would allow them to just work in one facility. That goes to this government's whole attitude towards the aged-care system: it's a hands-off, not-my-responsibility, nothing-to-see-here and nothing-to-fix-here attitude. Well, that's not good enough. This government is leaving aged-care workers and aged-care residents out of the supports they need and out of the types of support and system that we should have in a country that truly values our older Australians.

We should not be scared about a future where we enter aged care, and yet that is where most members of our community are. I know this because they come and tell me. They tell me, 'I don't want my mum and dad to go in there; I've seen what happens.' They're scared, and the people who are entering those facilities are scared. They should not be, and yet this government is failing to respond to the recommendations of the royal commission. It is failing to put in place the wholesale change—the real change—that will fix this system and will value this system going forward.

Labor knows that our aged-care system needs fixing. We know that it's broken and we know it needs fixing, and we will do the work to fix it. We will make sure that aged-care residents are valued. We will make sure that aged-care workers are paid as they should be. We will make sure that this is a system that works for people, not for providers and their profits. We will make sure that this royal commission does not go to waste and that older Australians are treated with the dignity and respect that they should be.

While it's positive that there are amendments relating to restrictive practices in this bill and while it's positive that we have some amendments relating to home-care assurance reviews, and also amendments relating to the Aged Care Financing Authority, they're not enough: we deserve better. From the beginning of this year, I have known how hard and difficult it has been for people in my community in looking at the situation in aged care and the vaccine rollout. We have the situation of unvaccinated workers, residents at risk and a system that isn't getting the fix that it needs. This government cannot drag the chain anymore. It cannot fail to respond as it should—it must respond to all the recommendations and it must fix our aged-care system.


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